Gay Partner Entitled to Inherit Dead Spouse's Estate

A judge has issued New York state's first ruling that the survivor of a legal same-sex marriage is entitled to inherit a dead spouse's estate.

Manhattan Surrogate Court Judge Kristin Booth Glen ruled that J. Craig Leiby was "the surviving spouse" and sole heir of H. Kenneth Ranftle.

The judge said Leiby, 65, and Ranftle, 54, married in Montreal on June 7, 2008, after being together nearly 25 years. An obituary notice said Ranftle died of lung cancer in Leiby's arms on Nov. 1, 2008.

The judge said marriages are recognized in New York if they are valid elsewhere and not specifically prohibited by state law or by "natural law," such as polygamy and incest. She found the Leiby-Ranftle marriage fell under neither exception.

Leiby's lawyer, Erica Bell, said Tuesday that the ruling determined her client was Ranftle's sole next of kin.

"This ruling implies, but does not say, if there had been no will, Leiby would (have inherited the estate)," she said.

Ranftle and Leiby lived and worked in New York City. Ranftle's three siblings did not oppose Leiby's probate petition of the multimillion-dollar estate, Bell said.

Gov. David Paterson last year directed state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages if they were valid where they were performed.